I’ve heard some pretty stupid stuff in my time but Sir Hugh Orde’s words, reported today in The Guardian are on a par with Boris Johnson’s ignorant realization that the tube strikes were “political”. Strikes? Political? Surely some mistake?
Police fear becoming the focus of public anger at government cuts and that repeated clashes with demonstrators risk damaging their reputation, a top officer has told the Guardian.
Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it was crucial that police do not appear to be “an arm of the state” who are being used to allow the government to “impose cuts”.
It’s too late for that, Sir Hugh. Because of their behaviour, the police have earned themselves a reputation for being violent and brutal and this is not the first time that the police have faced these allegations. The Met were involved in scuffles with protesters at a Countryside Alliance march in September 2002. At the G20 protests in April of last year, newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson – who was not part of the protests – was violently shoved to the ground by a TSG officer. Tomlinson subsequently died from the effects of this injury. The officer responsible for Tomlinson’s death did not face criminal charges.
Like it or not, the police along with the military use violence to achieve their objectives. In this way, they can both be said to be repressive forces. They are both arms of the state and act according the wishes of the state and are directly accountable to the government of the day. The police’s role is specifically domestic; the military’s can be both foreign and domestic -particularly if we consider how the army has been used historically to suppress protests and put down strikes. The Tonypandy Riots of 1910 and 1911 were quelled by the army which had been deployed there by the then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (now seen as a defender of freedom by some). Gunboats were anchored off Hull and Liverpool in 1911. In Liverpool, 3,000 armed troops together with police were deployed on the streets. This article from Libcom says,
As the rail strike began to spread across the country, a mass demonstration in Liverpool was declared as a show of support. Taking place on August 13 at St Georges Plateau, 100,000 workers came to hear speeches by workers and leaders of the unions, including Tom Mann. The demonstration went without incident until about 4 o’clock, when, completely unprovoked, the crowds of workers suddenly came under attack from the police. Indiscriminantly attacking bystanders, the police succeeded in clearing the steps of St George’s Hall in half an hour, despite resistance from strikers who used whatever they could find as weapons. Fighting soon spilled out into nearby streets, causing the police and troops to come under attack as workers pelted them with missiles from rooftops. Becoming known as Bloody Sunday, the fighting resulted in scores of injuries on both sides.
Then of course, there’s the Miner’s Strike and the notorious Battle of Orgreave Colliery in 1984 when the police baton and horse charged pickets.
Sir Hugh should read some history before going off half-cocked.